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Seeing and Being Seen in the Arts Community

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As a creator, I am always interested in the arts and cultural goings on across Canada. As a contributor to the Sharevision blog I have been even more cognizant of the happenings in the arts from an inclusion perspective. So when I caught a radio interview about an art exhibition at the Pendulum Gallery in Vancouver featuring only artists who are living with disabilities and who use wheelchairs, I paid attention.

The exhibition, called ‘Can You See Us Vancouver’, is not only created by artists with disabilities, it is accessible to them. All of the pieces are presented at the optimal height for people who use wheelchairs.

"Standard height in museums and galleries is either a 56 or a 60 inch center, and we chose 48 as the rounded number for people who use wheelchairs, for the artist to come and see the show from an optimal point of view," said Yuri Arajs, one of the exhibition's curators.

It really got me thinking about art and accessibility.

When I started to explore this theme, it became evident that there is a rich and varied creative landscape that includes so many different themes and diverse aspects of the disability experience, both visible, and not. And it isn’t only to have art created by persons with disabilities, but to share the disability experience. Whatever that disability may be.

To that end, there are a number of great festivals, events and classes out there.

The East Side Culture Crawl happens each November in Vancouver. The Eastside Culture Crawl Society has the vision of “transforming community through visual arts”.

In 2017 their website lists four community affiliates which “create art for healing and growth. The organizations engage with the creative arts to build bridges, develop physical and emotional health, explore feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behaviour and addictions, develop social skills, and increase self-esteem”.

These affiliates are:

• Atira Women’s Resource Society 
The Kettle Society 
Alternative Creations Studio 
Union Gospel Mission 

These organizations have studios that will be open to the public and display art for show and for sale, and may even include demonstrations and workshops as is the tradition of the East Side Culture Crawl. The Alternative Creations Studio is operated by posAbilities and enjoys offering the opportunity for “artists to showcase their work and meet their neighbours”.

Community inclusion at work.

Another festival, The SPARK Disability Art Festival is also held this November and is a Calgary-wide celebration of “creative self-expression by emerging and professional artists pan-disability”. In this case, SPARK’s mission is to “enhance the development of disability arts and culture both locally and globally through exhibition and advocacy. To do this, SPARK advances a creative vision of equality that explores the different themes and diverse aspects of the disability experience through visual art. Working with artists with visible and invisible disabilities, SPARK’s uniting politic is to foster Disability Pride”.

We all share the desire for pride – in our work, in our families, and in our communities as a whole. As an artist, I know how much joy one can receive from not only creating art, but from displaying it and having it seen and appreciated – at all heights. How wonderful it is that galleries and festivals are making inclusion more accessible to all, both for the artist and the audience.

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Links to a few Canadian arts organizations with a focus on inclusion:

Kickstart Disability Arts and Culture in BC: produces and presents works by artists with disabilities

Cool Arts Society in Kelowna: providing art opportunities fro adults with developmental disabilities

Spark Disability Arts Festival in Calgary: SPARK’s uniting politic is to foster Disability Pride

Propeller Dance in Ottawa: a company of dancers of all abilities 

Topics: ShareVision developmental disabilities art gallery Disability education